It was more or less business as usual on Day 11 of the French Open. Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova steamrolled into the semis, while David Ferrer trumped Andy Murray on his favorite surface.
Beast Mode: Earlier in the week David Ferrer was told by the Spanish press that the English-speaking press had given him a nickname: "The Little Beast." Ferrer's response was typical of the simple, no-nonsense guy that he is. "Yes, you can write little beast if you want to, but my name is David Ferrer."
When you write about David Ferrer you almost feel compelled to come up with nicknames. The Forgotten Spaniard, The Man from Valencia, The Little Terrier, The Odd Man Out, they're all an attempt to imbue Ferrer with a story, a narrative, and at times, an elevation to mythical status. After all, tennis is a sport about personalities, where racket breaking, tattoos, imitations, and broken English can earn you fans as quickly as titles.
But the reality is the more you try to shroud Ferrer in legend-speak, you take away the very thing that makes him special: David Ferrer is just ... David Ferrer. No more and no less. In a sea of larger-than-the-game personalities, of players who can make it more about themselves than the sport, who sit on billboards, and shuck sponsor gear, David Ferrer is a normal. He's an introvert who just wants to play tennis. Steady, grinding, unimpeachable tennis. And wouldn't you know it, that's refreshing as heck.
That's the brand of tennis that Ferrer has made a name for himself and that's what he brought against Andy Murray on Wednesday when he ended the Brit's (Scot?) streak of five straight Slam semifinal appearances, with a 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 win that earned him his first Roland Garros semifinal appearance. It's odd to think that Ferrer is into his first semifinal when he's been well-regarded as one of the best clay-courters in the game for years. But them's the breaks when you play in an era alongside Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, where losses on the clay leads can compound and derail your confidence. Ferrer has suffered some surprisingly early losses at Roland Garros. For six straight years he's lost to a player ranked below him, but everything finally came together for him this year. His draw didn't put him up against any big hitters and his consistent and cerebral game did the rest.
Against Murray, Ferrer was a rock, immovable from his gameplan or belief. As Murray's frustration grew he got tight and began throwing in bad error after bad error. This is where Ferrer's "terrier" reputation kicked in. He bit down and never let go, reducing his unforced errors while still moving the ball around with ease. Murray went for too much, too often, and next thing you knew, what was a tight and tense match for two and a half sets completely unraveled in the Spaniard's favor.
And so after two weeks of drama, rain, epically long matches, and upsets, the French Open semifinals will feature the four best clay court players in the world (let's not kid ourselves about Murray, even when he's 100 percent healthy). Quelle surprise.
Leave your gloves on: Nicolas Almagro puffed his chest and did his game best to stand toe-to-toe with Rafael Nadal in their quarterfinal clash, pushing the first set into a tiebreaker. In fact, that was the most games lost in a set for Rafa in the entire tournament. Nadal turned the screws and took the set 7-4 in the tiebreaker and went on to roll 6-2, 6-3 in the next two sets to extend his streak of sets won on red clay to 48 straight. Almagro was asked by the Spanish press afterwards if he threw in the towel after losing such a tight first set.
"If I dropped the gloves in a quarterfinals in Roland Garros, I deserve to go back to school," Almagro responded. "When Rafa starts attacking he’s an excellent player. When he’s dominating, he knows the game perfectly. But me dropping the gloves? No way. At no stage."
Almagro might want to give his gloves to David Ferrer, who, humble as ever, seems pretty unconvinced he's going to be able to do much damage against his good buddy Nadal. Ferrer has beaten Nadal on clay just once in 13 tries, the first time they ever played in Stuttgart in '04, and he hasn't even taken a set off him on the dirt since 2008 in Barcelona.
"I think you can win a set to Rafa, but there is a difference between winning a set and winning a match. Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible. He is in such good shape. We both want to win it, so I’m going to do everything I can. Then we can play with our PlayStations together, no problem."
That's not exactly the voice of confidence. Put your gloves on, Daveed!
Tomato, tomahto: Throughout the last two weeks much has been made of the "instability" of the women's game. Serena lost! Radwanska lost! Oh dear, Azarenka lost! If you weren't paying attention you'd think four qualifiers were into the semifinals. But here we are on the eve of the women's semifinals and three of the four semifinalists (Sharapova, Kvitova, and Stosur) are Slam-winning current or former top five players (Stosur came in ranked No. 6 but will be in the top five on Monday). Meanwhile, the party crasher, Sara Errani, is having a career year and has the most wins of anyone on clay this year. Call me crazy, but this isn't a sign of instability to me.